Insurer Explores Using Activity Trackers to Help Set Premiums

Some Fear Activity Monitoring Could Lead to Data Discrimination

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Will activity monitors keep health premiums low for people who exercise and opt in? And what happens to everyone else?
Will activity monitors keep health premiums low for people who exercise and opt in? And what happens to everyone else?

A Swiss health insurer is exploring setting premiums partly by customers' fitness as gauged by personal activity monitors, according to reports.

The news, from Swiss German-language daily Blick, was picked up in The Local, an English-language site covering European news, under the headline "Health insurers eye higher costs for the 'lazy'":

Peter Ohnemus of Dacadoo, a company specializing in collecting health data, agrees that digital tools could be useful to insurers and push people to take responsibility for their health.

"There's no solidarity if someone who does a lot of sports and takes care of their health has to pay the same high premiums as someone who smokes, drinks and drives and does not play sports," he told Blick.

Are we jogging toward punishing lazy people?

It's a question that the Federal Trade Commission and others have tackled in the hopes of protecting vulnerable groups' access to insurance, financial services and other services.

The project from the Swiss insurance company, CSS, is tracking the steps taken by 2,000 participants to determine whether and how insurers can tailor their products to customers, The Local wrote. "The implication," the article said, "is that people who refuse to be monitored will be subject to higher premiums."

That may seem like an unfounded fear at this point. But the proliferation of Internet of Things devices is already creating a market for data that could give companies more insight into the behavior of their customers -- or, in the case of insurance firms, on whom to place bets.

Here in the U.S. there's already movement in that direction. In May, Beam Technologies, maker of a connected toothbrush that syncs to a mobile app, introduced a loyalty-like program awarding dental-care discounts based on points patients generate when using their smart toothbrushes. Auto insurance firm Progressive has its rewards program, Snapshot, which uses a small device installed under car steering wheels to gauge driving habits. And, driver tracking app Dash is part of a pilot program in NYC providing discounts on Allstate auto insurance.

In other words, the quantified self comes with potential for benefits as well as the implied pitfalls of bias, profiling and discrimination. Expect the FTC and concerned legislators to keep banging that drum, however futile it may sound.

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